Tampa Decriminalizes Marijuana—Sometimes

tampa_marijuana_lawWith Mayor Bob Buckhorn and the Chief of Police backing the change, as of April 1, 2016, carrying marijuana in small quantities has been decriminalized in the city of Tampa-under certain circumstances.

Prior to the new ordinance that was passed in a council vote of 5-1 on March 17, 2016, anyone stopped in possession of any quantity of the substance could face criminal charges and a minimum of up to a year in the county jail. Under the new measure, people with 20 grams or less of marijuana could receive a citation instead of being arrested for criminal charges and pay a $75 fine for a first offense.

While the charge for possession has been greatly reduced, the city and police officials assert that the penalties rise to $150 for a second offense, $300 for a third and $450 subsequently.

Stephen A. Leal is a criminal defense attorney at McIntyre Thanasides in downtown Tampa. He points out that while the City of Tampa has joined other municipalities in Florida that have adopted similar local ordinances, possessing marijuana is still a criminal offense under state law.

“Tampa Police Department Officers now have the option to not arrest you for simple possession of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana. If you aren’t doing anything else that’s illegal at the time you’re caught, then this ordinance will likely keep you from being arrested by an officer from T.P.D.” He said.

“However, Marijuana arrests often lead to or result from other charges in many, many cases. Police will continue to investigate cases in the same manner as they have in the past, and if they find evidence of other crimes, the new ordinance allows them to arrest you for everything, including the marijuana offense.”

He also cautioned that in Hillsborough County “this ordinance only applies to the city limits of Tampa, and, therefore, The Tampa Police Department’s jurisdiction. It is not binding on any of the other law enforcement agencies operating in Hillsborough County. So if you are investigated by The Hillsborough County Sherriff’s Office, or The Police Departments for the cities of Temple Terrace or Plant City, the Tampa International Airport, or the Seminole Indian Reservation, the Florida law still applies. The same is true for any State Officers operating in Hillsborough County such as the Highway Patrol, for example.

In January of this year, Mayor Buckhorn expressed one of the core reasons why he is in favor of the new ordinance, because of the detrimental effects a criminal record would have on a young person’s life.

“What the country and certainly mayors have realized is incarcerating people, particularly young people, for a very small amount of marijuana absolutely alters their career path for the rest of their life,” he told the Tampa Tribune. “Once they get into that prison system, they are forever scarred; they forever have a prison record.”

If you need more information about the new Tampa marijuana law, or want to discuss other drug-related criminal charges, contact the Tampa criminal defense attorneys at McIntyre Thanasides Bringgold Elliott Grimaldi & Guito, P.A.